Yesterday afternoon, I finished the rewrite of Everything.
To keep its comforts close, I took the tape of the last chapter to bed with me. My personal bedtime story. Found the tape cued to an earlier chapter and, rather than spend the batteries winding back, decided to listen.
Oh my. And oh dear.
The chapter glowed. It sparkled. And it pointed out things that still need checking. I’ll compare tape with chapter, to make sure that the changes I so recently made didn’t sap the energy of the earlier version; didn’t occasion me to write myself out of the original magic. Not anticipating anything huge, in this last look: Just one more effort to swap out words overused or descriptions repeated. I would have done this, tape-listen or no.
But the exercise is a fractal. Of the greater Me.
I tell myself that it’s just this one more time…a final spending of the attention, the energy, the every-word-perfect airtightness, that is impossible to sustain at such intense levels for 370 pages.
It’s true. Partly, anyway.
This separation anxiety is also a case of one step forward, a half-step back. It’s how nothing gets done. Finishing a book, I get caught in the Mobius loop of my own perfectionism. I become the perpetual grad-student. The trembling suitor of life. The agoraphobic house-bound victim of OCD. The addict of the powerful drug of Words, needing just one more tiny fix.
I was weeping at this stage of The Spiritkeeper, in closing passages that even now take my breath. There are a couple of stretches toward the end of Everything that come very, very close in this waaaaaaaay different work. I rewrite to try to invest the latter with the qualities of the former. It ain’t gonna happen.
We must push the fledgling out of the nest. We must teach our kid to ride her bicycle—then watch her ride away. We must let the fireflies out of the jar. We must unclench our white-knuckled hands and let the damned story sail.
Writing is not a perpetual motion machine, kept going by its own energy until the world falls apart. As writers, we are not meant to stay in the hamster wheels of our safer selves, going round and round. There are other stories out there, waiting to be found, waiting to be told…and they will delight us and torture us and fill us up as this one has done.
That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway…after this one last rewrite….